Guerrilla Games debuted the first PS5 gameplay footage of Horizon Forbidden West last week via a new State of Play, and with it revealed new details about exploration and combat.
And while the presentation offered plenty of answers, it did raise more questions about the sequel too, so IGN spoke with Game Director Mathijs de Jonge and Narrative Director Benjamin McCaw about details from the State of Play and what they mean for Horizon Forbidden West’s advancements to the series’ gameplay and storytelling.
Free Climbing Is Much Freer
While Horizon Zero Dawn’s open world let players explore plenty of nooks and crannies of its world to uncover secrets, reach new biomes, and more, the climbing traversal was rather limited, largely defined to specific areas with only one clear path to explore. Not anymore with Horizon Forbidden West, which will allow for more freedom to climb from ledge to ledge than before.
In terms of the traversal and the human combat, this was a point from Horizon Zero Dawn, where we wanted to improve the mechanics. And this [State of Play] is a showcase for that, to show you can now free climb anywhere in the world,” de Jonge said in an interview with IGN, noting that the way Forbidden West allows for free climbing actually changed during development.
“We hand annotated lots of the rocks, the cliffs, the mountain sides. But at some point, we changed that to an automatic system that just detects if there is a latch somewhere in the geometry,” he said.
“So now the entire world, everything is automatically annotated. That means you can climb anywhere,” he continued, noting that this will be somewhat limited inside settlements, where players also shouldn’t expect to fight, either.
“There is more hand-placed, controlled exploration going on there. But outside of the settlements, in the open world, you can climb anywhere.”
De Jonge clarified that what players saw in the State of Play – when Aloy’s Focus zeroes in on a few handholds on columns of dilapidated buildings – isn’t a sign that that’s the only structure people can climb. Rather, the Focus lets players get a better sense of where these grabable spots are.
“I think some people think that you have to [use the Focus] to be able to climb, but that’s not true. This is just for light, for low light conditions, to be able to highlight them so you can actually see them better. But the player could climb anyway without having to ping.”
A Bigger World, But a More Varied One, Too
While not yet offering an exact size comparison, Guerrilla has indicated Forbidden West will be a larger world that Zero Dawn for players to experience, but during my interview both de Jonge and McCaw emphasized that the developers really aimed to deepen the world players would explore, rather than just making it bigger.
“The map is a little bit bigger, but in general, we’ve really looked at increasing the density, and adding more content, making sure there’s a lot more to do for the player across the map, and then making that content also engaging by telling little micro-stories,” de Jonge said.
That philosophy played into the open world storytelling players will encounter, which McCaw described as quite layered.
“There’s the tribal world, there’s the world of the machines, and there’s also our world. We really tried make sure there’s exploration throughout the open world related to all three, and also that we are deepening and evolving this story of all three,” McCaw said. “Aloy is venturing into a mysterious and dangerous frontier. That’s what the Forbidden West is. And we wanted to make sure that there is always a mystery for her to unravel, and always more for her to explore.”
Of course, one key way the developers are adding depth to the world is, literally, by adding depth. Aloy will be able to explore underwater, and it’s an area of the world the team really wanted to live up to the surface world players have come to know and will explore further in Forbidden West.
“Exploration is really the theme. And it’s not enough for us to just show underwater. We wanted to make sure that it’s every bit as beautiful as what you see in the natural world above it,” McCaw said.
“But it wasn’t just enough that you could swim around underwater. We wanted to do some things that are really surprising and interesting. And I think that’s where some of the story stuff comes in, and we just absolutely can’t wait for players to see what they’re going to experience.”
While the team is understandably remaining tight-lipped on the story, there are some mechanics players can see hinted at in the presentation, including underwater currents and “stealth kelp” as de Jonge referred to the underwater spots for Aloy to hide, as well as a “cat and mouse” approach to fending off enemies in the water.
Making Human Combat More Tactical
While Zero Dawn’s robotic enemies required a number of different strategies to properly take down, fighting against human foes was largely the same across the land. Forbidden West is looking to change that, as evidenced by the State of Play. The new footage showed a finisher-style move, the Valor Surge, as well as a fight against a larger foe that forced Aloy to use a combination of ranged and melee attacks.
“With the machines, the combat is pretty tactical. And there’s always multiple ways you can take them down. With the Focus scan, you can scan the machine, check out what are the weaknesses and what are the interactive components… So for this game, we [thought] with the humans, what if we Focus scan them? What kind of things could we see, and what kind of extra things can we put on them to evoke this tactical play around them,” de Jonge explained.
“We’ve added armor on them. You see this after Aloy has taken down one of those Raiders, and she runs towards the next one, she starts meleeing and hitting him. Several plates light up on him. And this is armor that can be knocked off, so you expose more vulnerable parts, as well, that you can then shoot at.”
Players will have to be more clever and tactical when taking on humans too, especially because de Jonge noted the studio has also made the human enemies a bit more aggressive as well.
Horizon Forbidden West currently doesn’t have a release date, but Hermen Hulst recently said that the next Horizon is aimed for a holiday 2021 launch. For more on the latest gameplay, be sure to watch our immediate reactions to Horizon’s State of Play and read a breakdown of all the new Forbidden West details.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor and host of Podcast Beyond! Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.